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Skyforger > Pērkoņkalve > Reviews
Skyforger - Pērkoņkalve

This iron is hot - 74%

Felix 1666, May 30th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Folter Records

Latvia looks back on an eventful history. It became independent after the Great War, but World War II ended tragically for the Latvian nation. The Soviet Union took possession of the country while deporting Latvian people en masse to Central Asia. After 45 years of foreign occupation, the country became again a sovereign State. Maybe due to these disturbing events, Skyforger integrates folkloric patterns in their music. The results are very different.

First of all, the guys sing in their native tongue. Of course, I do not understand a single word. But I like the authentic approach. It goes without saying that you cannot express the feelings and myths of a nation while using a foreign language. Apart from that, the strange sound of the language lends the music a mysterious aura. The vocal performance itself reaches a solid level. But Skyforger shines particularly with some fascinating riffs which build the backbone of a couple of stirring tracks. Perhaps you like to lend an ear to the opening riff of “Kad Ūsiņš jāj”. It is mighty and powerful so that it contrasts in an exciting manner with the gentle native tones of this mid-tempo number. The title track also benefits from a strong riff at the beginning. But the melancholic yet heavyweight “Migla, migla, rasa, rasa“, equipped with a polyphonic singing, gets the price for the best guitar work. Skyforger fascinates with an outstanding arrangement. The stoic riffing blends seamlessly with the acoustic guitar and the playful flute. A dark and foggy forest appears before the inner eye and its damp atmosphere makes you shiver.

Skyforger is not afraid of integrating a relatively huge number of sentimental breaks. Many of them are cleverly embedded and put the emphasis on the folkloric and less brusque side of the band. Unfortunately, the Latvian bards have also written some more or less unconvincing tracks. For example, they offer a very lame instrumental. Its fairly solid melody cannot conceal that this track does not add any value to the album. However, I have to stay fair. Pagan metal does not belong to my favourite genres. Bearded men that sing in choirs are usually not my cup of tea. And I have to admit that I do not appreciate an overdose of atypical instruments. But Skyforger accomplish their tasks successfully. They meet the criteria of the genre with great ease. All pagan metal fans can add five or ten percentage points - or maybe even more. Furthermore, they can rest assured that this band also appeals to black or thrash metal maniacs. Nonetheless, the songs I appreciate most are the aggressive outbursts.

The harshest song of the album is marked by “Nakts debesu karakungs”. It builds a bridge to their rabid second full-length. High speed drumming, combative riffs and varied vocals go hand in hand with the necessary quantum of melody. However, this euphoric yet merciless thrasher remains an exception and cannot be considered as representative for the album. But do not get me wrong. The majority of the more typical tunes also gives boredom no chance. Therefore, dive into the original compositions of this album. No doubt, its different melodies release emotions like happiness, desperation or self-confidence. I guess the same applies for the Latvian history.

Haul out your pennywhistles - 84%

radicaleb, March 11th, 2007

Straight up, this is a very nicely done piece of pagan folk-metal. Unlike some folk metal bands I've heard (and loved), SKYFORGER are very good at combining elements of both worlds into the same songs and that is where this particular album's strength lies. It's total effect as a concept album leaves me feeling, more than anything, like i've got to get myself over to fucking Latvia sometime soon.

Mostly their sound is just "heavy," not too thrashy while still maintaining thrash tempos, and neither very brutal nor atmospheric. When they want to be metal they are just straight-up heavy metal, with a pretty conventional guitar tone and pounding, occasionally double-kicked, drums. I'm curious to search out their earlier stuff but also kind of hesitant because sometimes this album gives me the feeling they might have formerly been just some mediocre, run-of-the-mill eastern european metal band. Some of their riffs definitely make me wanna bang my head off but sometimes they take funny turns that remind me of cheesy 80s stuff.....and I say that as a big fan of 80s metal.

But of course they aren't just writing straight up metal songs. These guys are extremely talented folk musicians, and particularly good arrangers, and they don't let these skills go to waste. So when a folky dual-flute lead explodes over the guitars in the middle of the first song, "When Usins Rides," I'm just like, "this is my new favourite sound ever." SKYFORGER manage to keep the use of folk instruments and melodies really varied over the course of the album, and as the previous reviewer noted, there is a very strong narrative flow to the mood of the songs that keeps everything feeling appropriate even when it isn't always fresh. There are songs that are clearly "metal" with acoustic instruments thrown in to mix it up, like the above-mentioned track, "Shortest Night of the Year," and "Thunderforge;" and then there are the more clearly "folk" songs, as performed by a metal band, like "Long Dance" and my personal favourite track from the album, "O Fog, O Dew," which is just amazing in it's execution and sense of suspense. But then for the last three songs, just when the band is starting to seem like a one-trick pony, come a couple of progressive thrash-sounding tracks that totally rule, and definitely end the album on a way more aggressive note than it began. Throughout the whole album, folk melodies and instrumentation appear in always well-placed moments, and altogether it's a great listen from start to finish.

The lyrics and liner notes play a huge part in my enjoyment of this album also, and knowing that it's this content that got them a cultural grant from the Latvian government to record their next album is just totally rad. All the songs deal with Latvian mythology, history, and folklore, but SKYFORGER go way beyond anything else I've heard and delve right into being educational....not only are all the lyrics printed in Latvian (as they appear on the album) and English, there are explanatory notes for each song that include details as minute as the celebration days for various deities! ha! I'm totally impressed by the effort that must have went into writing these songs, and the "seasonal cycle" motif makes for a very strong concept record.

Because of this approach, however, I feel like SKYFORGER lack some of the emotional impact that other, more angry bands bring to their folk/medieval metal, like FALKENBACH or acoustic-era ULVER, or even more atmospheric stuff like SUMMONING or ELFFOR. However, the fact that I consider them to exist in the same world, and without being the slightest bit black metal (like all those artists), should be understood as a solid recommendation. There is a sense of fun to this music that is impossible to deny, must be killer to see live, and has definitely won me over for many repeated listens. Hail Lativan Gods!

Hey, Northern folk, can you hear them sing? - 90%

mirons, June 22nd, 2005

“Thunderforge”, the third full-length album by Latvian pagan metal band Skyforger, is a strong follow-up to its not less strong predecessors. But this time the pagan warriors from Skyforger have decided to step a bit away from the already accustomed war theme by making an album more dedicated to ancient Latvian mythology and pagan beliefs thus leaving the some of the harshness aside.

All of the previous works were theme albums, the demo and first full-length “Kauja pie Saules” concentrating on the struggle of ancient Baltic tribes, especially Semigalls, against the christian invaders in 13th century, and “Latviesu Strelnieki (Latvian Riflemen)” telling about the valorous Latvian soldiers in World War I. “Thunderforge” is again a theme album, being close to a concept album, because all of the songs are arranged in a row, following the succession of seasons.

After a short sung intro it starts off with “When Usins Rides” (to avoid confusion, I’ll use the english track names here), which embodies the arrival of spring and nature’s awakening. The song itself comes from that time when the band, which later became Skyforger, was then called Grindmaster Dead and was playing doom metal. You can tell this already by the very beginning of the song, which features a simple yet unbelievably heavy guitar riff that brutally forces to bang your head and continues throughout the whole song, alternating with some other riffs of the same type. To bring in some fresh spring feeling, flute and kokle (an ancient Latvian instrument, similar to Finnish kantele) are used to reach the culmination of the song during the breakdown right after the middle of the song.

Logically following the cycle, then comes “The Shortest Night of the Year” – a song about summer solstice, during which the Son of God pays his annual visit to people. This song is one of the standouts of the album, featuring fancy riffing, cool folkish melodies and arrangements, all bound together in an astonishingly delicious way. Folk metal at its finest!

“Warlord of the Night Sky” departs for a while from the seasonal theme, focusing on Moon – the War God in latvian mythology. This song reminds of the previous, more black metal oriented, works of Skyforger, with tremolo picked riffing and from thrash metal style derivative drumming. However, it is a bit more more melodic and less raw, also the vocals have sort of a melody line, which was not prevalent in the early works of Skyforger. Theres also a Skyforger trademark kokle solo in the middle of song as well as in the ending. All in all it’s a fusion between the band’s previos musical style and the newer tendencies, and a well done one.

Then comes “The Long Dance”, an instrumental song which is an arrangement of ancient folk tune, usually played in festivities, especially wedding. In the original form it is a solemn dance, therefore for someone, who has not heard/seen it performed as such, this cover version (well, sort of) might get boring quickly. Otherwise it sounds quite interesting and provides a little break from all the metal stuff (despite having guitars and all the other stuff except vocals).

As next the title song “Thunderforge” awaits us. Another piece of fine folk metal with some of the crushing heavy riffing, some interesting guitar melodies and clean sung chorus and, of course, some folk instruments, flute this time. The song seems to be based on tales and mythological beliefs, telling a story about coming across a spectacular forge, where the Sky Forger, also known as Pçrkons (Thunder) forges the Sun.

The next one is “Oh Fog, Oh Dew” – a Latvian folk song. The first half of it is pure folk music with clean singing, flute and kokle, supplemented with some bass guitar chords, and then suddenly the metal part kicks in, still keeping the original melody and feel of the song. Very fine mix of pure Latvian folk music and heaviness.

All of the previous five songs deal with summer feeling, with “Oh Fog, Oh Dew” with its calmness coming closer to autumn. The following “Woman of Serpents” already has the damp and chilly breath of oncoming autumn, while the lyrics tell about the destruction of sacred grove by the crusaders after the collapse of defenders of Latvia. Therefore the only hope left is a sorceress, living deep in the forests – the Woman of Serpents; now only she can drive off the invaders and ask for Thunder to destroy the newly built christian church. I’m telling all this because I think that the music fits the lyrics perfectly – it is desperate, raging and even a bit frightening at times, musically filling out a very wide spectrum of emotions, combining agreesive riffs, sinister melody lines and fierce vocals. By the way, the quietly spoken part in the middle of the song is believed to be an authentic spell. I consider this song to also be one of the highlits of this album.
The more we are coming to the end of the album, the better it gets. After the desperate fight in previous song we have come to late autumn when nature wraps the scenery in a damp mist “Through the Gates of the World Beyond” is a pure doom metal song, coming also from the Skyforger’s early years (formerly it had different lyrics in english and was called “The Legend”) , upgraded with some folk music influences and telling about the ritual burial and the time when the souls of the dead can visit their living heir. An awesome song that has the dark atmosphere and heaviness of doom metal with some top notch arrangements. Goose-flesh guaranteed.

And then finally we have come to the end of the album where the song “In Darkness and Frost” marks the arrival of winter. Maintaining the darkness of the previous track it gets a bit faster and more agressive, asking the question of meaning of your life and emphasizing the infinity of life’s flow as well lyrically as musically – the fatality is all here, brought to us by the doomy bitter melodies combined with throughout the whole album present heavy riffing, embellished with the flute and kokle and a cool guitar solo.

Conclusion: the strong folkish melodies, powerful riffing, specific guitar melody lines and the not less specific vocals as well as for the first time occasionally used keybord created background moods make this a very unique metal album that depicts some of Latvian way of living and beliefs very picturesque. It is more melodic, classic metal oriented and less raging than Skyforger’s previous works, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful or epic. A must have for every folk/pagan metal fan and highly recommended to everyone.